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Kayaking with Sea Otters in Monterey

Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: July 2016

On my bucket list – Kayak in Monterey Bay to observe wild sea otters up close. This desire started last year after a trip to the Monterey Aquarium. The sea otter exhibit melted my heart. These playful furry mammals have a brown, thick coat that is the densest in the animal kingdom. They are most comfortable living in the ocean attached to kelp.

We booked one night at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey. Driving into the resort, we realized it wasn’t within walking distance to the kayak rentals or Cannery Row. We had to drive to dinner, sightseeing attractions and the heart of Monterey.

It’s an older resort above the freeway and attached to a golf course. Our room 261 was in building two and on the third floor, next to the elevator. We could hear the freeway noise. Our ADA room had a very low bathtub and pull down wood bench for showering. Safety bars were strategically placed to help those in need.

The king size bed was very comfortable, and we ordered a rollaway bed for our daughter. The room was clean, with nothing fancy. There was a safe, television, desk and free wi-fi in the room.

The resort has a large heated pool, warm spa tub and fire pit area for s’mores in the evening. It’s a family friendly resort that is filled with kids splashing in the pool and juccuzi after a day of sightseeing and exploring the aquarium.

After a quick swim, we drove into town, instead of staying at the property for dinner. Along Lighthouse Avenue there are a variety of restaurants and pubs. We stopped at Namaste Indian Bistro for warm curries, naan and Tandoori chicken.

After dinner we walked around Cannery Row. One of our first stops was the Ghirardelli Chocolate Cafe right on the water. During the Gold Rush days, Italian-born Domingo Ghirardelli, opened a confectionary shop in San Francisco to provide something sweet for the gold miners to enjoy. A tradition at each store is to hand a visitor a complimentary wrapped chocolate square. No purchase is necessary. This excites your tastebuds to enjoy one of their ice cream sundaes. There is outdoor sitting overlooking Monterey Bay.

In the evening, the shops start closing by 8 p.m. This area is filled with tourists during the day to explore shops, exhibits and dining options.

The next morning we drove to a Starbuck’s on Lighthouse Avenue for pastries and coffee, before renting two kayaks at Adventures by the Sea ( This recreation rental company has multiple locations in Monterey to rent kayaks, bikes, standup paddle boards and wetsuits.

We rented a yellow double kayak and a red single at the Lover’s Cove location. They have complimentary outerwear pullover jackets and pants to slip on and keep you warmer and drier while out on the water. They also supply a floating drypack to keep cell phones and wallets dry.

After a five minute instructional of how to paddle, designated boundary lines and distance to admire marine life, we were on our own.

Within a five minute paddle out to the kelp beds, I approached two sea otters. One was a white face and the other brown. A marine life volunteer paddled over to me in his kayak to enlighten me about sea otters. I learned they eat sea urchins, crabs, snails and some species of fish. Floating on their back, sea otters use a rock to open shells and sea urchins with amazing dexterity. They are very important in controlling the sea urchin population, which helps to protect the damage sea urchins can do to the kelp forest ecosystems.

He pointed to another area in a nearby kelp bed where there were three sea otter moms with their playful pups. We observed them grooming their fur, rolling around in the water and nurturing their young.

Afterwards, I paddled down the bay to the harbor breakwater. On the rocks were about one hundred barking male sea lions. A few curious seals swam close to me and looked right at me, before diving down.

While skimming the water, I cruised by a speckled harbor seal with a dog-like head, and a variety of sea birds that include seagulls and cormorants. In the distance I did see a whale breach up and dive back down.

After three hours of kayaking and a blister on each thumb, I decided I had enough exercise for the day. Checking back in, I realized I have a new appreciation of Monterey Bay and the marine life. It’s an experience I look forward to enjoying again.

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